Fresh Dessert

Sorry again friends that I’ve been MIA. Life has just been busy! The weekly Five Minute Friday word prompt for this week is “fresh.”

When I first heard the word prompt, I immediately thought of the theme song to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. “I whistled for a cab and when it came near; The license plate said fresh and it had dice in the mirror; If anything I could say that this cab was rare; But I thought ‘Nah, forget it’ – ‘Yo, holmes to Bel Air.’” It’s such a fun little ditty.

I’ve found a deep love for baking and cooking in my kitchen. Cookies that I got to share with friends. Last night I made a fresh batch of stew with jalapeño cornbread. This afternoon, the sweet smell of a Japanese cheesecake is wafting in the air. I can’t wait to see how it turns out. It’s my first attempt at this kind of cheesecake.

Once the cheesecake is finished, I’ll enjoy it with a sprinkle of powdered sugar and fresh strawberries. I’ll have to let you know how it tastes. I think it’ll be yummy it’s a cup of hot tea or maybe a peppermint mocha.

With Sighs Too Deep

“With sighs too deep for words” 

This is the prayer that is replaying in my head and heart today. As an Enneagram 9, I am the peacemaker. I want peace for everyone. Last night, after the events of the day, my body was feeling every bit of the tension of the day. I decided to grab the current book I’m reading and draw myself a bath. I needed to do something that was good for my body and me. It didn’t take long before the tears fell from my face. And as the tears fell, my fur babies Luna and Neville curled up next to the tub. It was the moment of peace, joy and laughter I didn’t realize I needed until that very moment. Yet I wasn’t blind to the world outside still in chaos.

“With sighs too deep for words”

My heart aches that our country continues to be so divided. We have forgotten how to truly listen and learn from each other. Earlier this year, I committed to joining a friend’s book study on racism. I’ve learned so much as we have read “White Fragility,” “Stamped,” “Between the World and Me,” “The New Jim Crow,” “Just Mercy” and our current read “Racecraft.” I’m still committed to learning and being a better ally. There are days that I fail at this so I will continue to confess my own complacency in calling out white privilege.

“With sighs too deep for words”

There is so much swirling around in my brain and heart as I continue to process yesterday’s events. I still yearn for a day where we can learn from each other. I yearn for a day when our love for each other unites us rather than divides us. I yearn for a better future for my friends children who have experienced the realities of being a black child in a white world. I yearn for so much better and I’m not blind to the work we still have to do. I can’t help but think of the baptismal promises said in my baptism and at my confirmation, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” 

I want to share with you words that I wrote as we waited for the election results to come in. These words have been sitting on my iPad since that day. I’ve been afraid to share them because I know not all of my readers will agree or even understand. But I need to share them in the hopes that maybe they’ll create some dialogue and we can learn from each other. I also think you’ll notice the deep difference in how my body reacted on both days; a day where the tension in my body released and another day when the tension was felt in every part of my body.

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Written November 2020…

Four years ago, I was on the losing side of history. I felt so many emotions. I was disappointed and hopeless. Yet there was a holy fire that was lit in me that day and has continued every day since that day (I wrote this blog post for the Slate Project four years ago: https://www.slateproject.org/blog/grief-guilt-and-the-holy-fire-of-hope-by-tara-ulrich

This time around, I voted by mail because we are in the midst of a pandemic and I need to protect my neighbors and those who are most vulnerable. So Election Day Tuesday was a quiet day, yet I found myself stress baking and trying to distract myself from election results. The smell of fresh apple crisp and baked oatmeal are still lingering in the air. 

Tuesday, of course, drug on forever. And each day since Tuesday, Ive found myself filled with anxiety. What would happen in the days to come? In the hours? In the minutes? I kept scrolling and wondering when the news would be confirmed. 

Then this morning, I woke up to watch The Kitchen on the Food Network. I was scrolling Tik Tok and saw a post of a woman who posted about the news. I immediately went to Twitter. One of the first tweets I read said: Biden/Harris win! Tears began falling from my eyes! Tears of relief. Tears of joy. Tears of hope.

However, it isn’t lost on me that there are some of my friends feeling some of the same emotions I felt four years ago. So I find myself wanting to celebrate quietly. But I can’t help but realize that today is a good and historic day. Character matters! We’ve just elected the first woman Vice President. 

For the past four years, I’ve watched and heard stories of my friend’s children who are children of color experience horrendous racism. I’ve watched the news unfold as so many like George Floyd have cried out, “I can’t breathe.” I’ve tried my best to learn and live my life as an ally to those on the margins. There are days that I’ve failed, but I will not stop trying until black, indigenous, LGTBQ+ lives matter as much as white lives matter. We have so much work to do, friends! 

Several months ago, I started engaging in a book club around racial injustice. My eyes have been opened even more to the racism that many feel every day. As we’ve read White Fragility, Stamped, and Between the World and Me and had hard conversations, I’ve felt a deep need for our world to do better. There is so much we’ve omitted about what this world was founded on. The color of our skin does give us advantages in this world.

I voted for sweet Mara, Samuel, and every little kiddo I know. I want better for each and every one of them. But most of all, I want better for my BIPOC, indigenous, and LGTBQ+ friends. There are so many names running through my head as I write this. We must erase white privilege. We must listen, learn and work for a world where justice is served: justice where every human life matters. 

I know this is where some of my readers will disagree. I know some supported Trump because of his beliefs about abortion. However, many of us who are pro choice do not see it as pro abortion. For many of us, pro-choice means that no matter your personal feelings or beliefs, we understand and believe it is not our place to make a decision for another woman about what she can and can’t do with her body. 

Our country still remains so divided. But today is a reminder that love wins. We are called to love one another just as we love ourselves. We are called to work towards a justice that wipes out systematic racism, beats this pandemic, and in the words of our President and VP elect, to heal the soul of our nation. As I heard those words spoken tonight, more tears fell from my eyes. There also was a huge sigh of relief and release from my body.

I know we have so much work to do. But tonight I feel hopeful and that holy fire, lit four years ago, is still burning. It’s flickering with new life. Tonight and for the days to come, may the long process of work and healing begin! 

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“With sighs too deep for words”

Tik Tok, A Pandemic and Transformation

When 2020 began, I was packing up boxes and moving in with my sister. I was standing in the midst of liminal space, wondering what was to come next.(http://prayingontheprairie.net/giving-birth-to-transformation/) I had placed all my trust in God. And before I knew it, new beginnings were happening. I began a new call around the first of March.

Little did I know that the beginning would slowly be put to a halt as the pandemic really took off in the US. I attended church the first two weeks in my new community. The third week I traveled with Pr Sherri to two other communities. That week was the beginning of the end as worship moved to online after that week.

The first weeks and months were difficult as I made new friends and met new parishioners through Zoom. Pr Sherri’s departure to Oslo, Norway was delayed for several months. Yet there was gift in those moments too. I learned so much from my colleague. I found new ways to be creative like making Tik Tok videos.

This was not the year any of us expected, but as I look back over this year and my one word, I can truly say I was transformed. 2018 was full of so much loss and grief. But that year prepared me in so many ways for this year that was to be. God healed my pain and helped me to become whole; not without the cracks and repairs though. Our cracks remind us of where we came from and where we are going!

I was reminded of how much joy the kitchen brings me. There is something holy about creating with my hands. I love when I’m able to share that with others. Tonight, I made a NYE beautiful spread for my sister and I. I even sent cookies to dear friends.

Tik Tok brought me joy, but most of all it introduced me to some of the most amazing friends. I am so incredibly thankful for each friend I’ve made there. They remind me of how loved, unique, and special I am. In a lot of ways, their friendship has made me find my beauty and worth again.

2020 has been a year of so much loss and grief and it is a year that we won’t soon forget. Masks, racial injustice, a highly contested presidential election are only a few of the things we will remember. This year had taught us a lot and reminded us what’s important. It’s been a year of transformation but transformation in the ways we didn’t expect.

 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”-Romans 12:2

Tracing Back to the Manger

“This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”-Luke 2:2

Yesterday December 23rd was the second anniversary of my grandfather’s death. His death was the ninth death in 2018. 2018 was the year of great loss and grief and it constantly felt that I was on the Lenten weary road of grief. I was a Road Weary Traveler. Little did I know how much that year would prepare me for the year of 2020.

This year has been filled with so much loss and grief. At times, God has seemed distant and silent. Yet it’s no surprise in the midst of such great loss. Chairs at holiday tables are empty because loved one have been lost to Covid 19. Families are not together because they are quarantining or simply trying to keep their neighbors safe. As a result, we might need a little help preparing our hearts to receive this infant king.

I, for one, need God to help me prepare my heart to receive Emmanuel “God with us.” My heart is so heavy with the grief of this year. I look at my Christmas tree and am reminded of dear Marvel who gifted me with my tree skirt. Marvel caught Covid 19 and passed away. She was one of the kindest and healthiest women that I know. Her husband and family are not far from my mind this holiday season. And their story is only one in a million stories from the year of our Lord; 2020.

I grieve that the beginning of my call started right as the pandemic took flight here in the United States. I’ve taught Bible study over Zoom. I’ve edited countless worship services. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve questioned if we are doing enough to protect those we serve. After months of waiting to travel to Norway, my colleague finally left to start her new call in Oslo. In the midst of the grief, I’m thankful for the time we shared and all she taught me. But I once again find myself on the weary road and I’m tired!

To be honest, this has been the longest Lenten weary road ever, leading us straight into Advent and to the manger. At the manger, we are reminded that Christ comes as the light in the midst of the darkness. But sometimes, like this year, we need to sit in the dark and be reminded that only God has the power to overcome death and the grave.

Because God overcomes death and the grave, I need to hear the words that the angel says to Mary, to Joseph and to all of us “Do not be afraid.” I need to faithfully hear and share the story because “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Most especially, in the year of our Lord 2020, Jesus meets us in the hopes and fears of this very year.

And as I hear this familiar story, I am beginning to see signs of hope swaddled in God’s love for all of us. The vaccine is starting to be distributed to essential workers. My mom’s nursing home called yesterday and asked if we wanted mom to get the vaccine in early 2021. Glimmers of hope in the midst of an extremely difficult year.

Signs of hope come in Emmanuel “God with us.” This one who promises to never leave us or forsake us. This one who comes into the world, in all his humanity, as the Word made flesh. “ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:1-5).”

Tears are falling from my eyes as I remember again that Jesus is the one born “as the hopes and fears of all the years.” God’s love is met in thee tonight; met in an infant Son born for all the world to see and always traces us back to the manger, to the cross and to the empty tomb.

Unmute yourselves, my friends and proclaim loudly and triumphantly “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2: 11-12)

Looked with Favor

This morning, I received a phone call from my mom’s nursing home asking if we wanted her to get the Covid 19 vaccine. I know the call was coming. My sister and I had talked about so I was ready to give them an answer. Yes!

“For God looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

“God looked with favor on those working on the frontlines” “

“God looked with favor on the nurses, the doctors.”

“God looked with favor on nursing home residents, the disabled, minorities and so many others”

May all these be able to stay safe and receive the vaccine that need it and want it.

”For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on, all generations will call me blessed.”

A New Year

Sorry again friends that I’ve been MIA. Life has just been busy! The weekly Five Minute Friday word prompt for this week is “conclude.”

I think we can all agree on one thing…that we all are ready for 2020 to be over. It has been a pretty crummy year. Family and friends have suffered from COVID. One of my favorite people died from COVID. I began my new call right as this pandemic really took off in the states.

There has been a tad bit of good that came out of this year. Zoom has been a life saver as it’s allowed me to stay connected to more people than I imagined or expected. My colleagues departure to Norway and her new call was delayed. The months we served together I learned so much from her. My sister and I are only an hour apart.

Yet this year has been full of so much loss and grief. I’m more than ready for a new year and 2021 to arrive! As I write this, the first vaccines are starting to be given to essential workers. I’m beginning to see more glimmers of hope as this year concludes and a new year is soon upon us.

May 2021 be filled with so much joy!

A Covenant in the Midst of a Pandemic

I’m laying on my couch with only the lights of the Christmas tree and my tv on. My sister and I have been texting back and forth asking what we are going to do for Christmas. She’s currently quarantining as she was exposed to a positive case. I’m thankful that she doesn’t have any symptoms so far.

This year has been hard. I began a new call just as this pandemic started. I met a lot of my new parishioners on Zoom. The Zoom fatigue is real, but I’m so grateful that I’ve had Zoom to connect with others. In many ways, it’s been a life line.

My heart aches for the families that have suffered such great loss this year. I’m reminded of sweet Marvel who gifted me the beautiful tree skirt that currently is wrapped around the base or my Christmas tree. She passed away from complications from Covid pneumonia. She was one of the healthiest women that I know. And her story is only one of the thousands who have passed away this year.

The essential workers have continued to care for so many and yet they too have found themselves defeated and worn down by this virus. My mom’s nursing home called three weeks ago to inform me that mom tested positive for COVID. My heart sank into my chest. How do you explain to a 70 year old woman who lives with bipolar disorder and some early signs of dementia why she has to quarantine? She was so sad and I couldn’t give her a hug etc. Yet I’m so incredibly thankful that mom escaped with no symptoms.

I’m not sure what Christmas will look like next week, but what I do know is Jesus will be born. And as Emmanuel “God with us” we need him more than ever. This infant who comes for the lowly, the outcasts, those on the margins and every single person on earth.

Today I sing of God’s faithfulness as mom didn’t have any COVID symptoms when she tested positive. I sing of God’s faithfulness that sometimes we need to experience the darkness to come to the light. I sing of God’s love that God has never left us or forsaken us in the midst of this pandemic. I will sing and tell the story of God’s love that continually calls us to lament and leave our burdens at the foot of the cross and in the manger.

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing. Joy to the world! Joy to the world! The Savior reigns.”

A Love Hate Relationship

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Psalm 13. How long, oh Lord, will you forget me forever?” So when I opened today’s Advent devotion from Psalm 79 and read these words “How long, oh Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealous wrath burn like fire.” I’ll admit I wasn’t quite sure how to feel. Yet I could feel it in my body. I felt a deep tenseness and wanted to be six feet away from the words that were staring back at me.

My morning started with a phone call from my mom’s nursing home calling to inform me that Mom tested positive for COVID 19. Thankfully she doesn’t have any symptoms but as I heard those words, my heart still sunk into my chest. For the last nine months, as this pandemic has raged on, mom has been healthy and cared for there. I know that her nursing home staff has done everything in their power to protect mom and the other residents. I could hear the sheer defeat in the social worker as she shared the news of my mom’s health with me.

So many of us are exhausted, ready for this pandemic to be under control. So many of us are weary; weary from explaining why we are being so cautious. Many are grieving the loss of a loved one who has been taken from COVID 19. And as I read these words from Psalm 79, I find myself asking more questions:

How long, oh Lord, will it take for the anti-maskers to wear a mask?

How long, oh Lord, will it be before our hospitals are no longer at capacity?

How long, oh Lord, will we have to worry about and protect those who are the most vulnerable?

How long, oh Lord?

How long, oh Lord?

I don’t have the answer, friend! But I do believe that we are called to love and serve our neighbors. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” And we can do that by simply protecting and caring for one another.

As we walk this Advent journey, may we see the road ahead. May we continue to trust that God sees us. God sees you working hard on the front lines. God sees you who yearns to be with family. God sees you parents teaching your children at home. God sees you with all of your needs. And God daily calls us to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with him.”

“How long, oh Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealous wrath burn like fire.”

No Stranger to Grief

Sorry friends that I’ve been MIA. Life has just been busy and to be honest, I just needed a little break. But I’m back! The weekly Five Minute Friday word prompt for this week is “grief.”

I’m no stranger to grief. From October 2017 to December 2018, I lost nine family/friends to death. A seminary classmate, then my favorite high school English teacher, then my friend Ben, a seminary professor, Ben’s brother Aaron, my friend Rachel, my friend Paul’s wife Stephanie, our dear family friend Jim, and finally my Grandpa Wilbert; two days before Christmas.

To say that that year was overwhelming is an understatement. I was so overcome by the grief of these friends and family. Grief at times can be paralyzing. We don’t know how to move on without them. Life is different and missing those we loved. Grief sometimes also comes not through physical death but the change of a job etc. God sits with us in all of our grief. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes; “mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”

Yet it isn’t until Christ returns that we will fully know that reality. So I cling to the Ecclesiastes text about seasons. “ a time to weep and a time to mourn,* a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted etc.” There is a time for every season under heaven.

Jesus weeps with us. Jesus knows the grief we feel and sits with us. Jesus will make all things new again. I’m reminded of one of my favorite scriptures Psalm 30:5 “Weeping may come for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” After long days of weeping, long days of grief, joy will slowly return. I promise I’ve seen it after the year of grief.

A Mosiac made and gifted to me by my friend Laurie H. Isn’t it stunning?!

Sitting on the Edge

The tears have been sitting on the surface since Tuesday. This morning, I went to post a Tik Tok video and the tears immediately let loose. Our world is more divided than ever and I’m not sure if there is any hope left.

I mailed in my vote because we are in the midst of a pandemic and I need to do my part to keep the vulnerable among us safe. It saddens me that my vote and the votes of many other mail in voters are being questioned right now. Our country has an election process in place to protect and honor the votes of all of us. It would do us all good to be patient in this moment.

However, what saddens and angers me the most is how we are treating one another. I’ve seen so much evil and hatred. I’ve even seen others flat out attacking the other side. It doesn’t make us look good to the rest of the world at all.

Have you taken the time to truly ask someone why they voted the way they did? (I know that I could be better at this). I believe that we could learn a lot and help bring our world together if we used our own righteous anger and rage to unite us rather than divide us. Doesn’t God call us “to love our neighbors as we love ourselves?”//

Several months ago, I joined a book study/discussion talking about racial inequality and white privilege. We’ve read “White Fragility,” “Stamped,” “Between the World and Me,” and many others. These books have helped me to learn what it means when we say phrases like “All lives matter.” All lives do matter but not until black lives; indigenous live ; BIPOC lives matter.

I joined this book club because I’m a lifelong learner. But more than that, I joined because I want better for my friend’s children especially those children who have been adopted from other countries. These children have not been immune to racism. Sadly they experience it almost every day of their young lives.

It makes me think of the people in the book of Jeremiah who were in exile for over 70 years.
What must it have been like to be the outsiders? What must it look like for those in our country who are often seen as the outsiders? Perhaps we could take a different perspective and learn from each other.

I want better for them. I want better for all of us. I want us to move beyond you’re right w f I’m wrong. I want us to move towards love and justice rather than hatred and evil. Words do matter!

These tears that I have cried are holy tears that are calling me to do better. They are calling me to truly live out the words of Micah 6:8 “But what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.”

No matter what happens, friends, our work is just beginning!